Anyone familiar with the disastrous state of India should not be overly surprised to learn that the Indian parliament has an overwhelmingly greater percentage of criminals than the general population. How effectively a nation functions and how successful it is depends on its leaders who make public policy and thus critically determine the outcome. India’s failure to develop and achieve its potential is proof positive that its leadership is lacking.
Underdevelopment, poverty, and all other ills that plague India are an unavoidable consequence of poor public policies and choices.
One does not have to know criminology to suspect that criminals cannot make good public policy makers. For support of this position, one has to look at the dismal record of the criminals in charge of public policy in India. It is not that every single politician in India is a criminal; only that a significant number of them are criminals. But it is unbelievable that even one member of the Indian parliament should be a criminal. That we don’t rise in revolt against this outrage shows that we have come to accept it as par for the course and have resigned ourselves to it. Worse, it could mean that the Indian population is so morally bankrupt that it finds crime so normal that it elects criminals to political power.
All this lends support to the claim that the people deserve the government they get. Perhaps because the people in general are immoral criminals that they accept — perhaps even promote — criminals to represent them. The resulting Hobbesian existence — solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short — the majority live is something that they are ultimately responsible for. Until the people change, there is no possibility of a change of leadership, and the consequent change in the circumstances.
But there is still some hope; as long as there is life, there is hope. India has not yet descended to the depths plumbed by its western neighbor because it still has as part of its civil society people who deeply care about the quality of leadership. One organization of note is the Association for Democratic Reforms. I got introduced to it when I met one of its founder members, Prof Jagdeesh Chhokar, in New Delhi last week.
ADR’s mission is “to work towards improving and strengthening democracy and governance in India.” I will leave you to take a look at their many achievements since they started in 1999. Here I would like to share with you some statistics that ADR has compiled. (Thanks to S Ramachandra for forwarding the files.)
Here’s an excerpt from a press release dated July 10th, 2008:
The coming general elections to the Lok Sabha do not forecast a bright future if the composition of the Lok Sabha 2004 at present is any indication. There are 120 MPs with criminal cases against them out of 543, or 22.1%. Among the major parties, the BJP has 29 MPs with a criminal record, the Indian National Congress (INC) 24, the SP 11, RJD 8, CPM 7, BSP 7, NCP 5 and CPI 2.
The number of cases of serious crimes is 333, with several MPs having multiple cases. If we look at violent crimes like murder, attempt to murder, robbery, dacoity, kidnapping, theft and extortion, rape, other violent crimes like assault using dangerous weapons or causing grievous hurt, the Samajwadi Party (SP) leads with 80 cases, followed by BSP 43, BJP 17, INC 16, RJD 9, CPM 5, CPI 1, NCP 2. Other crimes like cheating, fraud, forgery, giving false oaths to public officials and so on have BSP 23, RJD 22, INC 21, BJP 11, SP 11 and CPM 6. [Emphasis added.]
Becoming informed is the first necessary step to bringing about change. So do talk, write, blog, etc., about this. Spread the word. Most of all, blog about this frequently enough that it becomes impossible to not know about it. And put your money where your mouth is — for starters, you could help support ADR. They need Rs 3 crores (US$ 750,000) for the coming 2009 Elections campaign.
For the record, I am publishing their proposal below.
Strengthening Indian Democracy:
Proposal for the coming General Elections in 2008-09
Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR: www.adrindia.org)
July 8, 2008
ADR was founded in 1999 by a group of Professors from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad and some alumni to work towards strengthening democracy and governance in India by focusing on fair and transparent electoral processes. Since its founding, it has worked with over 1000 NGO partners around India, disseminating information on candidates and political parties to voters. ADR has also worked closely with the media, the Election Commission of India and eminent citizens around the country. Its founder was elected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2008.
The major impact of ADR’s work is at four levels:
1. Lobbying lawmakers and implementers (various Courts, Election Commission, parliamentarians, etc.) to institute laws and procedures to increase accountability and transparency
2. Strengthen the monitoring of candidates and political parties on accountability, funding and for transparency.
3. Increase awareness among the public about important facts and issues regarding candidates, funding, political parties, elections and democracy.
4. Cause a shift in the profile of candidates winning elections towards people with clean backgrounds.
Sample Impact of ADR’s work
Here is a representative list of impact achieved by the activities of ADR:
1. ADR filed and won two landmark judgments on candidate disclosure of criminal and financial records from the Supreme Court in May 2002 and March 2003.
2. Made transparent the financial details of political parties using the Right to Information Act in 2008 after 14 months of persistence with the Income tax Authorities and the central Information Commission.
3. Has established a network of over a thousand NGOs around the country to do Citizen Election Watch for all major elections since December 2002, disclosing candidate background information to the media and the public.
4. Has initiated Civil Society non-partisan Election Watches in different states:
a. In the Lok Sabha 2004 Elections, 19 States and 5 Union Territories carried out Election Watches.
b. Have conducted Election watches in about 20 states
5. Bihar Election Watch in Oct-Nov 2005 resulted in intense pressure on the Chief Minister designate for the first time perhaps in decades to have a Council of Ministers without any known criminal record.
6. Clearance of lakhs of rupees of outstanding dues to the Government for rent, electricity, phone bills, etc. by Members of Parliament (MPs) before standing for (re)elections.
7. A measurable impact in the fielding of non-tainted candidates by applying pressure on political parties to filed clean candidates.
Objectives for Lok Sabha elections April-May 2009
The coming national elections in April-May 2009 provide a unique opportunity to leverage the network already in place, and the information already collected, to carry out a campaign to further improve democracy. ADR wishes to take a campaign to:
1. Improve the profile of candidates contesting elections: ADR has already achieved this in the past in state assembly elections, but we expect to take this nationwide through the proposed campaign. Political parties have started reacting to media exposure and have begun cleaning up their Act (e.g., see in Sample impact for Bihar)
2. Enable voters to make an informed choice: As of now, the information available to voters is limited, and the existing database of over 25000 candidates with ADR will be used to raise voter awareness significantly.
3. Help keep election expenses transparent and within the legal limit: Again, information dissemination is key.
4. Strengthen democracy by making candidates and parties more accountable to voters and citizens: Our experience shows that in pockets where dissemination was intense, the candidates and political parties did respond. The campaign will take this nationwide.
5. Create a platform or platforms beyond the elections to help citizens and Governments work more closely together: We will use our network of over thousand NGOs in the campaign to achieve this.
ADR has information on all major National and State elections in India since 2002. Specifically, ADR will disseminate information to voters around the country through following means:
1. Traditional print and electronic media,
2. The Internet (though its reach is still limited in India),
3. The network of NGOs,
4. Through mobile technologies(which has grown rapidly in the recent past) ,
5. And Voice technologies.
One time support needed for Lok Sabha elections April-May 2009:
ADR is currently supported for its establishment expenses by the Ford Foundation. However, it does not have financial support for next year’s general elections. This involves 543 seats to the Parliament (Lok Sabha), and involves around 670 million voters. It is the largest democratic election held anywhere in the world. We estimate that a modest $750,000 can help us do the campaign. We are looking for a one time support for these elections.
How the fund will be utilized
The broad strategy is to use the existing information base, supplement it with more research, and disseminate it steadily starting now until the general elections. As mentioned earlier, this will be done traditional print and electronic media, the Internet, the network of NGOs, mobile and voice. Previous experience of such limited campaigns in Gujarat and UP showed good results with positive reaction from political parties.
For instance, we will build Member of Parliament profiles, political party profiles, and election expense information from our existing data base. Dissemination will be done in English and Hindi (the major language that about 35% of India knows) at the very least. We also hope to do it in 7 other major languages.